I am absolutely thrilled to welcome author Sarah Loudin Thomas to the blog today. Her debut novel, Miracle in a Dry Season, is set to release August 5th from Bethany House Publishers.
Tell us about Sarah! We’d love to get to know you more.
My name—Sarah—means “God’s Princess,” which makes me happy because I always wanted to be a princess. Or a ballerina. I do own a tiara (thanks, Mom!), although my husband discourages me from wearing it in public. Seriously, though, I am, first and foremost a child of God. I’m grateful that I grew up in a Christian family with a larger church family to raise me up right. I’ve been married for 18 years to a man who helps me hone my faith and my writing. He keeps me grounded! I’m also a fundraiser for a children’s ministry in Black Mountain, NC, and am so grateful God can use me to improve the lives of abused, abandoned, and neglected children.
Had you always wanted to be a writer? When was it that you really knew God was leading you to write?
I don’t think I ever really set out to be a writer—I just wrote. Poems and stories and songs when I was a kid. Then I took poetry more seriously in college and had a few things published. I was a journalist for a while and realized that if I put all my articles together I’d have several book’s worth of words so I figured I could write a book if I wanted to. Then I got this idea about characters who could work miracles—whether they actually wanted to or not. And I was off! I’m not sure I realized God was leading me until I started having some success. Then I KNEW it was God, because it was the only explanation!
Who is your favorite character in the story and why?
I’m in love with the Talbot sisters. They’re 70-year-old twins who live in the farmhouse their Papa left them. One is all sweetness and the other is crotchety. Writing them was so much fun and they come out with the best comments! Of course, they’re also involved in a fifty-year-old love triangle with wild and wooly Frank Post. I could write their stories all day!
Miracle in a Dry Season is your first full-length novel in the Appalachian Blessings series. Tell us about your publishing journey.
The first novel I started shopping is the one that will probably be book #3 in the Appalachian Blessings series. I did that thing too many new writers do; I typed THE END and thought I was done. Oh, I’d read about how writers often make that mistake, but I strongly suspected I was different. Not so much.
After getting some positive feedback, but no offers or even requests for a full manuscript I started getting serious about improving my writing. I went to conferences, hired a freelance editor to look at the first chapter, entered contests, paid for critiques from published authors—if feedback was available, I jumped on it. And I began to see what needed fixing.
While I polished that first manuscript, I started writing Miracle in a Dry Season. Except this time I had a vague idea about how to write a book. MiaDS was a finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest and I decided it was time to pitch my dream agent. I sent Wendy Lawton at Books & Such a query letter and she asked for a proposal and then a full manuscript. She offered representation right before Thanksgiving in 2012 and we sold MiaDS the following spring. Then, of course, there were months of editing and planning before the book release—more than a year’s worth of working and waiting. But it is SO worth it.
What spiritual lessons did you apply to your own life while you wrote this manuscript?
I wish I had something wonderful and inspiring to offer here, but I really don’t. The most important lesson in my writing life has long been to apply the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair. And pray. Pray before writing, pray during writing, give thanks when the writing flows, and ask for help when it doesn’t. I guess my spiritual lesson is that God is the true author and I’m just thankful that he lets me help.
What are some of the truths you hope readers will take away from this book?
-Forgiveness benefits you even more than the person you forgive.
-Everyone is worth of love!
-It’s easy to judge people and while it’s harder to take the time to know and understand them, it’s worth it in the long run.
-West Virginia is the prettiest place on earth and is populated by some of the best people!
What is unique about the setting? How does it enhance the story?
My stories are set in West Virginia—my home state. WV is the only state that is entirely encompassed by Appalachia, other states are only part Appalachian. It’s an area that’s often negatively stereotyped—think the ignorant, moonshining, hillbilly. But in truth, some of the best people I have ever met come from the hills and hollers of the mountain state. We have such a rich heritage tied back to those Scotch/Irish roots and I think the inaccessibility of parts of the state have helped to preserve some of those old ways. In my experience, West Virginians are unpretentious, honest, loyal, and funny and I hope I communicate that in my writing.
Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters. Do you give your characters personality traits you see in your friends or family?
I think it’s impossible NOT to write myself into the characters. But it’s not something I do intentionally. And I don’t model characters on anyone I know, although I glean personality traits from friends, family, and even strangers whether I mean to or not. My brother told me the Talbot sisters reminded him of a two ladies who lived in the community when we were growing up—except they were mother and daughter. It hadn’t occurred to me until he mentioned it, but there are some similarities! I just try to pay attention to the world around me, soak it all in, and let it come out however it will.
Do you outline your books or let the story go where it wishes?
I have a very basic outline—maybe just a couple of paragraphs that hit the beginning, some major points along the way, and the ending. I once described it as having compass points. I generally know what direction I’m headed, but I have only a vague idea of how I’ll get there. I admire writers who do extensive plotting, but for me, the fun is in seeing where the story will go. I write primarily to find out what happens next. If I knew, I’d be much less interested in the process.
What are some of the great conflicts your heroine faces that the modern-day woman might relate to most?
Being judged and criticized. While there’s not much stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock these days, there are plenty of other ways we judge and snub each other. Maybe your hair or clothes are wrong. Your job isn’t good enough. You live in the wrong part of town. You don’t go to the right church or read the right books—the list goes on and on. I think everyone can relate to feeling judged. And I think everyone has been guilty of judging someone else. I know I’ve found myself on each side more than once.
How do you organize your writing day? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
When I’m actively writing it mostly happens in the evenings. The dog is walked, dinner is over, and I can settle in to write for an hour or two. I like writing where I can hear my husband doing something else—watching TV or playing his guitar—it makes me feel connected. I aim to average around 1,000 words a day—some days more, some less. And I often stop at a point where I have a pretty good idea about what happens next. That way, when I pick back up, I’ll be off and running.
If you have found yourself in a creative slump where do you turn to find inspiration?
I find the best cure for a slump is to sit down and write anyway. Even when I don’t want to write and can’t think what to write, if I just DO it the words generally come. If I’m stuck on a plot point, I head out on a hike with my dog. I’ve unraveled all kinds of problems wandering around Pisgah National Forest.
Will you be doing a book signing tour? If so, how can the readers find out if you will be in their area?
I hope to do a few signings in the Asheville, NC, area and maybe some back home in West Virginia. I post any appearances on my website at http://www.SarahLoudinThomas.com/eventsspeaking
When is your next book due out and what can you tell us about it?
Book #2 in the Appalachian Blessings series is tentatively titled Until the Harvest and is due out Summer 2015. It’s about the next generation of the Phillips family. Here’s the promo copy:
When a family tragedy derails Henry Phillips’ college studies, he’s left unmoored and feeling abandoned. Although Henry tries to find escape in bad company, the only things that can tamp down his anger and grief are the family farm, his fiddle, and sweet but odd pre-teen Mayfair Hoffman.
Unfortunately, Mayfair’s older sister Margaret with the freckles and cute, turned up nose, has the opposite effect. Worse, she’s his grandmother’s housekeeper and helper, so she’s always around and ready to push his buttons. At first he thinks she doesn’t care about his loss, before beginning to understand she’s facing her own struggles. Mayfair’s health and unique gift sit at the heart of those worries, and Henry and Margaret soon find themselves relying on each other as both Henry’s future and Mayfair’s life are put at risk.
Where can readers find out more about you and your writing?
What would you be doing with your free time if you weren’t writing?
Reading! That’s what I did before I started writing. I also like to hike with my dog, cook and redecorate the house, although finance and my husband keep that in check.
What is your biggest pet-peeve?
Hearing App-a-latch-a pronounced App-a-lay-sha. I’m on a quest to get everyone saying it right.
What is your favorite way to communicate with your readers?
Over a cup of tea and scones in a cozy café. That not often being possible, I love hearing from folks on Facebook and via my blog.
What is the most important thing on your current ‘To Do’ list?
I start each day with a chapter of the Bible and prayer. Sometimes I’m tempted to skip it for other things that seem more pressing, but it’s the most important thing I do.
Who is your favorite Christian author? Why?
That’s by far the hardest question you’ve asked! There are so many authors I enjoy. I’ll cheat a little and pick Jan Karon for fiction and C.S. Lewis for non-fiction. I’ve loved Jan Karon’s Mitford since Father Tim first stepped out of the Main Street Grill. She writes such cozy, comfortable books that at the same time are filled with good messages and life lessons. And while her fiction is strongly faith-focused, she’s seen as a mainstream author—quite a feat in this day and age! As for C.S. Lewis, well, he’s simply the most brilliant Christian thinker I’ve ever encountered. Mere Christianity is a must-read for any believer (or potential believer!).
What is your favorite place to curl up with a book?
I really like the big, leather chair in the corner of the living room, but my favorite place is in a bubble bath with a mug of tea. I get all pruny, but it’s such a comfort. When I was a kid, I loved to read in the hayloft—especially if it was raining. Of course, that leads to napping.
If we were to walk into Starbucks together what drink would you order?
I’m a decaffeinated tea drinker, so my choices at Starbucks are limited. They carry a nice mint tea, though, and if we’re splurging their chocolate cake pops are scrumptious.
If you were going to go on vacation would you choose the coast or the mountains?
I lived near the ocean for ten years and while it’s lovely, I’m a mountain girl. Give me a swimming hole over an ocean any day!
How can your fans best support you?
Hearing from them is always a highlight. It humbles and thrills me to hear that someone enjoyed my writing. Of course, posting reviews on book sites (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads) or blogs is always helpful as is just talking about the books. My hope is that my novels will not only entertain, but will perhaps point readers God-ward. And if I can be the tool God uses to turn even one heart in his direction . . . well, what more could I hope for?
If you and your husband were going to have a “date night” where would you want him to take you?
We do have those—regularly! Not having children allows us to “date” as much as we want. Our favorite outing is The Corner Kitchen in Asheville, NC. The food is amazing and the two-story cottage is such a lovely place to linger. But we often “date” at home. I’ll cook something special and we’ll take a glass of wine out to the back deck to listen to the creek and watch the wind in the trees. It really doesn’t get much better than that!
Read my full review of Miracle in a Dry Season here.